How to Wash Acetate and Triacetate Fabric

Acetate fabric
  blackred / Getty Images 

Acetate fabric, and the triacetate fabrics that followed is created from one of the earliest man-made fibers in the United States. While often used as a substitute for silk in less expensive garments because of its silky appearance, care must be used when washing and treating acetate for stains.

How to Wash and Dry Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics

  • Always read and carefully follow care labels in clothing for best results. Even though acetate and triacetate fabrics can be washed, some garment care tags may recommend dry cleaning only to preserve the shape and structure of the garment. If you are a novice at doing laundry or the garment is expensive, follow the dry cleaning recommendation.
  • If the care label indicates that the acetate or triacetate garment can be washed, always use cold water. Hand washing acetate clothes is recommended to prevent excessive wrinkling and damage. Use a gentle detergent and do not twist or wring the garment.
  • If a washer is used, do not overload the washer, choose the gentle cycle, and select a reduced speed spin cycle. Too much agitation and high-speed spinning can produce excessive wrinkles that can be very difficult to remove from acetate and triacetate fabrics. It is best to place the garment in a mesh bag before adding to the washer to prevent snagging from zippers on other clothes.
  • To remove stains, follow the instructions for specific stains. NEVER use acetone or organic solvents like turpentine on acetate or triacetate because the fibers will dissolve. Again, this cannot be reversed.
  • Skip the clothes dryer and allow acetate and triacetate clothes to air dry. Excessive heat may cause the garment to shrink and that cannot be reversed.

How to Iron and Store Acetate Garments

  • If the garment must be ironed, use a low temperature and a pressing cloth to prevent the melting of fibers that can create holes or shiny spots. Press while the fabric is slightly damp.
  • Store acetate garments away from any alcohol-based products like perfume or nail polish remover which can cause damage.

What Are Acetate and Triacetate?

Acetate fiber is man-made and manufactured from cellulose or wood pulp. What originally began in Europe as a manufactured coating for airplane wings, became a staple in fabric production in the United States by 1924 by the Celanese Corporation. 

Originally acetate was not dye-stable and color bleeding would occur. However, this was resolved by textile experts who realized that solution dying the fibers rather than waiting to dye the finished fabric made the color stable. Now all man-made fibers are solution dyed before weaving or knitting.

Since acetate is less expensive to produce than many other fibers, thanks to an abundance of wood pulp, and is not very durable; acetate is often used for short-term special occasion wear like graduation gowns and party dresses. It is also the fabric of choice for some accessories like ribbons, scarves, and neckties that don't experience excessively hard wear.

Additional advancements were made by the Celanese Corporation in the 1950s with the development of triacetate. Triacetate combines cellulose with acetate esters from acetic acid and acetate anhydride. The result is a more stable, durable fabric that is easier care. Triacetate can withstand more agitation and heat without damaging the fibers.

What's Good About Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics

  • Acetate fabrics drape well and have a smooth silky feel.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics are available in many colors and prints.
  • Triacetate fabrics hold a pleat well and remain crisp.
  • Triacetate fabrics can be ironed at a higher temperature before damage occurs.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics have a high luster and reflect light to produce a shiny finish.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics do not pill, produce little static, and are low cost to purchase.
  • Triacetate fabrics are resistant to wrinkles.
  • Triacetate fabrics are much more shrink resistant than Acetate fabrics.
  • Triacetate fabrics are machine washable at a higher water temperature and quick drying.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fabrics are insect and mildew resistant.

Problems with Acetate and Triacetate Fabrics

  • Acetate and Triacetate fabric dissolve in fingernail polish remover or acetone.
  • Woven acetate fabrics often require dry cleaning to prevent excessive wrinkling.
  • Acetate fibers are heat sensitive and can melt when ironed. High temperatures in the dryer or even the hot-water setting on a washer can create permanent wrinkles after a high-speed spin cycle.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fibers do not produce strong fabrics and are susceptible to abrasion.
  • Acetate and Triacetate fibers do not stretch and cannot take hard wear. However, Triacetate is much more durable than Acetate.